Putting Women First
I’m probably going to get myself in a bit of trouble here – I had a thought a couple weeks ago about a female founder that I buried away. Normally I’m quite willing to throw my ideas out in the open as I think we learn and grow when we’re open about our ideas – the crazy ones, the politically incorrect ones – all of them. For those of you that know me I’m sure I’ve offended or bothered all of you at least once. If you know me well enough you probably realize my intent isn’t to hurt, but to provoke new thought and get an honest response. I like to iterate my way from crazy to sane but that path can be misinterpreted. OK, so enough up front fluffery- you’re probably thinking “What the hell could Paige be thinking about a female founder that he wasn’t willing to just throw out there”. Honestly there’s probably a ton of things but here’s the one that’s been bothering me:
“A pregnant founder / CEO is going to fail her company”
As an angel investor, a free-wheeling free- agent in the world of entrepreneurship, I’ll normally say anything that comes into my head. But now, as the cofounder of BetterWorks I thought “maybe I should let this idea slide away – no need to piss off the world of female execs out there”. But the reality is that women in the workplace is an incredibly important topic. We’re missing out on a ton of talent out there and we need to take this seriously.
The Situation: I was contemplating an investment in this awesome crowd-sourced funding company in LA called Profounder. I love the vision: helping local brick & mortar businesses get funding from their community. The founding team, Jessica Jackley & Dana Mauriello, are incredible ladies with exactly the spirit and attitude I’m looking for in founders. We’ve talked extensively, had lunch together and I saw first hand the amazing talent & drive these two bring to the table. And then, a week later I find out Jessica is pregnant…and this dirty little thought pops in my head. I’m thinking how in the hell is this founder going to lead a team, build a company and change the world for these businesses carrying a kid around for the next few months and then caring for the kids after. I can’t say I personally know anything about it but birthing & raising kids seems like the toughest job around. And now I have a founder who has to be a CEO and a mother.
The Decision: Ultimately I decided to invest, namely because I gave a commitment to invest and decided that pregnancy shouldn’t impact my decision. But what concerns me more is that I’m normally very equal-opportunity. In fact I really like working with female entrepreneurs and wish we had more of them. I have quite a few female entrepreneurs in my portfolio companies but the reality here is that I almost didn’t invest and I’m sure a ton of us decide not to invest, support, promote or work with women because of this whole “marriage / pregnancy” hurdle that most women will face in their career. I normally tell people I don’t care about your sex, race, religion, sexual preference – these things just don’t mean a bag of dogshit to me.
Yet, I almost didn’t invest so it must mean something and I’m definitely not as equal opportunity as I thought. And even though I ultimately decided to support Jessica and Dana, there are a ton of Jessica’s out there that won’t get the same treatment. And this brings me to my big question: Should I go out of my way to support female entrepreneurs? Should I give female executives, founders and others women an advantage in funding, hiring & promoting?
I talked to Jessica this weekend at Summit at Sea and told her my thoughts. I was a bit ashamed – walking up and telling an entrepreneur you’re backing that you have doubts, particularly something like this, is never an easy chat. But it is something we should do; I really love being direct and we do owe it to each other. Surprisingly Jessica wasn’t upset and I asked her if it was cool for me to write about this.
She gave me a warm yes and so here are two key points rolling around in my head right now:
- I have doubts once I think of you getting married, having kids and being distracted from work. Right or wrong this is something I’m thinking
- We need more women in the workplace. Look around at founders, boards and execs and you’ll all realize women are grossly under represented in the workplace
Recognizing this doubt I’m now asking myself if I should give preference to women. What do you think?
And before you answer, take the time to watch Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk. I watched this last night as I was thinking about this topic and she brings up some great points. But the issue I have here is that Sheryl’s talk is directed at women – telling women what they should do. What I want to know is how should we as men deal with this?